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College students in Kansas now have access to a new scholarship designed to help keep their talents in the state after they graduate.

Through the Kansas Promise Scholarship, Kansas state government is putting $10 million annually toward helping students who enter certain high-demand fields pay for a community college education. Scholarship recipients are required to work in Kansas for two years after they complete their education.

Heather Morgan, executive director of the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, said the program is aimed at students who may not qualify for other types of financial aid. 

“The goal of the scholarship program is to help provide Kansas businesses the workforce they desperately need, and to help Kansans stay in Kansas,” Morgan said. 

Thirty-three higher education institutions in Kansas are included in the program — 19 community colleges, seven technical colleges and seven private, nonprofit postsecondary institutions. 

The Kansas Promise Scholarship Act went into effect July 1. After other types of aid are applied, the program pays the entire remaining cost of tuition, fees and books. 

In the Kansas City area, Johnson County Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College, MidAmerica Nazarene University and Donnelly College are included on a list of schools with approved programs on the Kansas Board of Regents website.

Scholarship recipients must live and work in Kansas after they graduate. If they go on to get a higher degree at another institution, the two-year work requirement would begin after they complete their four-year degree. 

To be eligible for the scholarship, students must be studying one of four areas: information technology and security; mental and physical health care; advanced manufacturing and building trades; or early childhood education and development. 

In addition, each participating school can choose one other area of study to include in the scholarship. 

In the Kansas City area, Johnson County Community College lists more than 50 programs eligible for the scholarship, while Kansas City Kansas Community College lists more than 25.

Those eligible must typically have graduated from a Kansas high school or an equivalent in the past year or be at least 21 and a Kansas resident for at least the past three years. There are exceptions for children of military members.

Christal Williams, director of financial aid for JCCC, encouraged families not to assume they are ineligible.

“I think we have many that may not be applying because they feel like they won’t qualify, because in the past, they didn’t qualify for federal aid. And that’s not the case,” she said. 

The scholarship does not require that students study full-time, though they need to enroll in at least six hours per semester. 

At Johnson County Community College, Williams estimated about 120 students had received scholarship offers as of Sept. 14 and about 90 had accepted. She expects to see more growth as the college continues to advertise the program. 

When developing the program, legislators looked at successful examples from other states, such as Tennessee.

In the first year of the Tennessee Promise Scholarship, the percent of high school graduates who enrolled in higher education jumped nearly 6 percentage points. It has since dipped slightly but remains above prescholarship levels, according to a 2021 report from Tennessee’s Office of Research and Education Accountability. 

The number of students attending community colleges also increased.

The Tennessee program is offered to students regardless of income, grades or subject matter of their degree, but it has strict requirements to maintain eligibility, such as going to school full time, fulfilling service hours and attending mentoring meetings. It does not cover books and supplies.

2020 report from the Office of Research suggested those were barriers to participation that could be adjusted. 

In Kansas, legislators have already avoided some of those pitfalls and are planning to tweak the program to improve clarity. One issue they are working to address is when students work in the Kansas City metro area and end up getting transferred across the state line within their company. 

“We want all the groups that are invested in this to look at what’s in the legislation and make recommendations to make it even better, to make it more clear,” Baumgardner said.

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